Laird woke, free of any chain, handcuffs or rope.
I watched as he opened his eyes, groaned, and then stared in momentary confusion at the slice of pizza and the glass in front of him.
When he raised himself from the floor, he was treated to a view of me, Maggie and Fell. Evan was perched on the handle of the sword I held, while Rose was inside a full-length mirror, provided by Joel.
He took in the scene with care, very deliberate. His attention fell on the chalk circle around him. Three concentric circles, the first about five feet across, the third about nine feet across. Each had been elaborated on with an intricate, almost lace-like border that ran along the perimeter, pointed outward.
“What’s this?” he finally asked, while pinching the bridge of his nose, his eyes screwed shut.
“That’s pizza. Pepperoni and onion. The coke might have gotten a little flat since we poured it. You took a few hours to wake up. I was almost worried.”
“That’s not what I was asking,” he said. “The circle.”
“It’s a problem if any of your friends, family, or allies find you,” I said. “That circle means they shouldn’t be able to.”
“And if I ask for help or simply walk out?” he asked.
“Fell here has his revolver loaded with shot shells. It’s like a small shotgun, painful, debilitating, but it probably won’t kill-.”
Laird interrupted, “-I don’t need an explanation. I know what shot shells are. You’re offering hospitality with one hand and threatening to shoot me with the other?”
It was Maggie who spoke up, “The tried-and-true rules have a firm grounding in history, officer Behaim. The roads were dangerous at night, food was hard to come by. You couldn’t turn away someone at your door, and you couldn’t refuse a guest amenities, or you were sentencing them to death. You couldn’t abuse hospitality given for the same reason, because you’d be sentencing the next guy to death. But, all that said, nobody’s going to begrudge a man, a peasant, or a king their right to keep a weapon on hand if they know their guest is a potential threat.”
“And here I thought you were a novice,” Laird said.
“I have a lot of free time,” Maggie said, “Not a lot to do, I’ve become a bit of a student of history, as it happens. You learn relevant things all the time if you pay attention.”
“Blake’s recent bout of forgetfulness excepted, I’d say we’re all students of history,” Laird said. “I’d hope we’re all learning.”
Maggie smiled. “True.”
Rose, not smiling at all, said, “Yet you keep coming after us, and you get bitten worse each time. What’s that they say about insanity and doing the same thing over and over again?”
“I prefer to view it as one long, ongoing conflict, than a series of failures.”
“How convenient,” Rose said. “I’m not sure the universe agrees with you.”
“I’m not sure either,” Laird said. He rubbed at his temples. “Ah, my head.”
“Please excuse me if I’m not too sympathetic,” I said.
“Fully excused,” he said. He looked up, squinting a little at the light that came in from the window. “Well, this should be interesting.”
“Maybe,” I said. “But let’s handle the mundane stuff before we get to the interesting. You have food, drink, can I get you anything else?”
“Water,” he said. “Sugary drinks give me a headache, and I could do with an Aspirin, to start off. Whatever that goblin did hurt quite a bit, and it’s left my head pounding.”
“It smells too,” Evan commented. “My mom used to get me to eat my asparagus by telling me it would make my pee stink. You smell worse.”
“I do,” Laird said. He wrinkled his nose. “Am I being greedy by asking for a bucket of water, a washcloth, and maybe a change of clothes?”
“Bucket and washcloth are doable,” I said. “They can double as a chamberpot. We just had someone go shopping for us, but we didn’t get clothes.”
I almost said sorry, but I wasn’t so sure I was.
“A chamberpot, how medieval. My coat, then? It seems to have gotten the worst of it.”
“A plastic bag,” I said.
“Please. And… where is my implement?”
Laird looked. The watch sat on a nearby table, outside of the circle.
“We make no claim to your property, except to secure it. I don’t know if you can see from that angle, but there’s another circle to keep the zeitgeist spirit firmly in place.”
“Maggie,” I said. “Could you round up the stuff? I’d rather not take my eyes off him, Fell’s got the gun, and Rose can’t do anything.”
“No worries,” she said.
“First aid stuff should be in the bag by the door.”
“The tables have certainly turned,” Laird observed. “Me, alone, my companion secured out of reach, virtually useless…”
He gestured toward his golden pocketwatch, and his gaze passed over to Rose.
Rose scowled just a little.
“…And there you stand, Blake, looming ominously, with me at your mercy. A great deal of help at your disposal.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“What happens next? Shall we repeat history, with the roles reversed?”
“I give you what you need, then finish the circle,” I said.
“It’s an odd circle. Humans don’t lend themselves to being bound inside diagrams, for the most part. The details… who drew this?”
“Why would I want to open my mouth? To give you hints?”
“You don’t need to, but you can give me answers for the same reason you’re giving me food. I can’t reciprocate your generosity, really, unless I give you answers. It’s a win-win situation for you. You get karma by playing by the rules, or you get answers.”
“Win-win-lose, you mean,” I said. “I could give you vital information that leads to you breaking free and getting the better of me.”
“Does that mean there is vital information to be had?” he asked. “Information you’re insecure about?”
“I’m insecure about a lot of things,” I said. “Sharing information about the circle isn’t even in the top ten. I’ll explain the circle soon. For now-”
“-For now, I’ll stay put if it means I don’t get shot.”
Maggie returned. Rather than a bucket, she had a small trash can with a lid. Probably better.
“Thanks,” I said.
“I’ll bring it to you like this, but I’m not going to empty it when it’s full. So gross.”
I nodded. “Fill it with water?”
She nodded. I waited while she filled it with soap and water from the sink.
Laird was looking around, one hand raised to block the light from the window as he took in the apartment.
“Your apartment?” Laird asked.
It was a vacant room in another building Joel managed, a space he rented out to students, but I didn’t need to tell Laird that.
“Do you remember our first conversation?” Laird asked.
“Comparing the residents of Jacob’s Bell to countries? Yeah.”
“I compared my family to America, if you remember.”
“What happens when an American dignitary is kidnapped? When any offense is made against the American people or American soil?”
“Overreaction,” Maggie said, from the kitchen. She arrived with the little bucket of soapy water and a wad of paper towels. “An excess of force.”
“Overreaction. Well put,” Laird said. “You know that this won’t end well for you, don’t you?”
“I’m holding out hope,” I said. I was careful not to block Fell’s line of sight as I stepped over the lines, carefully planting each foot so I wouldn’t scuff the marks in chalk.
Standing in the midst of the circle, I set down the little bucket of soapy water, reached back, took the paper towel, and set it down too. Aspirin, a garbage bag and a glass of water followed.
Laird carefully arranged each item so he still had room to sit. His attention seemed to linger on the circle.
“Pizza,” I said.
“Hm?” Laird asked.
Maggie handed me the pizza box. Only a few slices remained.
I handed it to Laird.
“And some more water,” I said.
“One sec,” Maggie said.
“Pizza will keep for a little while, and it’s edible cold. We don’t plan to leave you here so long that you’ll run out of water or face an overflowing chamber pot.”
“I see,” Laird mused, leaning back to get a better view of Maggie filling a vase with water – there apparently weren’t any pitchers in the cupboards. “I’m staying here for a while, then?”
“Could I ask for a book or two, then?”
“No,” I said. “Don’t have any, and I’m not sure you couldn’t use it to pull something.”
“A chair? Something I could use to sleep?”
“You have the plastic bag with the coat for a pillow. The apartment isn’t cold,” I said. “I want you fed and healthy. Nothing more.”
I handed over the water pitcher.
He grabbed it, but he didn’t take it from me. It left me suspended in place, waiting for him to grab it.
He used the opportunity to stare up at me from his kneeling position, speaking in a low voice. “When America is attacked, retribution tends to be brutal. Not necessarily swift, but they hold grudges. Pearl Harbor, Nine-Eleven…”
“I would argue that America’s living a lie,” I said. “They spend a great deal of time deluding themselves about just how powerful they are, a lot of time deluding others, and a lot of time abusing the power that does exist. Not that Canada’s a whole lot better.”
Laird took the water jug.
“Deluded, hm?” he asked, as he set the jug down. He took a second organizing everything.
“Yeah,” I said. “About how many friends they have, or the reality of the ongoing war, so to speak…”
I trailed off.
When Laird didn’t answer right away, I started to make my way back out of the diagram. Maggie offered a hand to help keep me steady.
“I’m getting more eager to hear the answer to this particular riddle,” Laird said, tapping the floor next to the circle. He’d placed the bucket behind him, and was busy removing his coat.
“Soon,” I said.
He folded the coat and stowed it in the garbage bag, squeezed the air out, pointing the opening at us, then knotted it firmly.
I pulled up a chair, sitting facing him.
He took his time getting organized, shifted position, sitting on the floor, and looked at me.
“The circle will break up incoming connections, and should serve as a barrier to anything going out. You’ll have trouble practicing,” I said. I indicated Rose. “Rose’s work.”
“I’ve seen similar,” Laird said. “But there’s a little too much detail and not quite enough substance, if I may say so myself. The outer circle may be stronger, but you passed it easily enough.”
“That’s intentional,” I said.
“I’d rather show,” I said.
I reached over to the table, grabbed a book, and then leaned forward, placing it in between the first and second circles.
Black Lamb’s Blood.
“Hm,” Laird said.
I laid a piece of paper down on the book. It was bound with a sticker, the only thing we’d had readily available, and marked with a script.
“Pauz,” I said. “Should you accept the compact written on that paper, I release you.”
The bindings of cord came undone. The book opened, pages flipping around, and Pauz unfolded in the process. There was a brief fuzz of black around him, like insects, feathers or coarse clumps of hair scattered into the wind, a spray of blood.
He flexed, turning to stare at me, then looked down at the diagram that surrounded him.
I watched carefully, the words to call him back on the tip of my tongue, as he made his way around the circle. Caught between the first and second of the three circles, Pauz did a full circuit before deciding that there wasn’t a weakness he could capitalize on.
“A watchdog,” Laird said.
“I asked myself what you cherish,” I said. “Then I asked myself how I could use that against you. You’re arrogant, you want to be in charge, to be Lord, to have power. Pauz can take all that away.
“You made the circle weak on purpose.”
“Yes,” I said. A fragile magic circle inside a stronger magic circle inside an even stronger magic circle.
“What are the terms you gave the imp?”
“They’re written in the envelope. Rose’s research, again. Careful wording.”
Laird glanced at Rose. I did too- she was standing there, her arms folded.
When I spoke, it was in a low voice. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t spiteful. Dealing with those kids back there? That was fucked up on a number of levels, Laird.”
“They knew what they were doing.”
I stabbed my finger in his direction. “You used them, you’ve brainwashed them with the Behaim-centric, anti-Thorburn thinking. I had to fight to keep them alive, and as far as I can tell, that’s more than you did. Your child, your nieces and nephews. As far as I’m concerned, you’re toxic. You’re dangerous. If you’re miserable for the next couple of days, I’m not going to complain.”
“Days?” Laird asked. I thought I detected a note of surprise and emotion, a hint that I’d broken through the facade.
“You’re not short. You might have trouble sleeping, if you can’t stretch out all the way. Breach the line of that circle, and Pauz can come in and join you. He shouldn’t cause any physical damage that can’t be reversed, but if the roles were reversed, I wouldn’t want to test Pauz’s ability to bend those rules.”
I saw Laird look down at the imp.
“The rules don’t say I can’t talk to him,” Pauz said.
Lines creased Laird’s face as he turned to look at Pauz. Concern?
“The rules say you have to stick to English,” I said. “No demonic tongues or anything of the sort.”
“Yeah,” Pauz said. He crawled forward on all fours, looking almost feral as his back arched, the individual vertebrae sticking up, a spine with an ‘s’ curve, apparently. A baby with a mouth like a piranha, dead eyes, and dark gray flesh. He made a scratching noise, circling around until he was out of Laird’s view.
“Do you want to volunteer information?” I asked Laird. “This could go easier. I could give you amenities, or
“I didn’t think you were capable of this, Thorburn,” Laird said.
“I’m not doing anything but keeping you here.”
“It’s torture. Psychological torture. You’re setting me up to fall into the imp’s clutches, but by doing it like this, you defer responsibility for it.”
I glanced at Rose. It had been her idea.
“To be entirely honest, I wasn’t aware that was actually a thing,” I said. “Deferring responsibility.”
“It is,” Laird told me. He’d gone very still, and looked very grim, the lines in his face making his age and stress obvious. “You leave a man standing on a chair with a noose around their neck. The powers and spirits that would decide where responsibility for the death rested don’t necessarily have the wits or the long memory needed to figure it out.”
Fell sat in a chair, the butt-end of the gun resting in his hand. He’d relaxed a bit since the imp was summoned. “It’s true. There’s a reason practitioners prefer curses and convoluted ends over efficient things like bullets.”
“Ah,” I said. “Interesting.”
I shifted position, getting out of the chair, then crouching until I was at eye level with Laird.
When I spoke, my voice was low. “Tell me, is that deferring of responsibility the reason you used Maggie and her goblins to go after my cousin? Molly Walker?”
“Ask your friend there.” he asked, pointing at Maggie. “She’s the one that sent the goblins after your cousin.”
“No need. Rhetorical questions don’t need answers,” I said. “I just wanted you to know you didn’t win any points in this discussion by reminding me of how you had Molly brutally murdered, using and manipulating Maggie.”
He stared at me, unflinching.
“Sit tight,” I said.
I rose to a standing position, using the seat of the chair and Maggie’s help.
“You’re playing with fire,” Laird said. “If that imp breaks through-”
“Pauz. I am Pauz,” the imp growled, enunciating it pa-ooz.
“If the less-than-charming Pauz influences me, it’s a step forward for his kind. There’s no recovering what we lose to them. Objectively, taking this risk is more evil than the murder of a thousand Molly Walkers,” Laird said.
“Or, you know,” Evan piped up, “You could not kill a thousand girls?”
“You sound scared, Laird,” Rose said.
Laird spread his arms. Pauz lunged, moving three feet into the air, snapping his teeth in an effort to seize Laird’s fingertip as it approached the line.
But Laird had stopped just short of passing over the circle.
Pauz landed with a heavier thud than I might have expected.
“I admit I am,” Laird said. “If that’s what you wanted out of me, then you’ve won.”
“That’s not the victory we’re looking for,” Rose said.
“What do you want?” Laird asked.
“To remove you from play,” I said. “For the purposes of this contest.”
“And in general,” Rose chimed in, finishing my thought. “To ruin you, Making it so people have to ask, ‘Is Laird compromised?’ ‘Is he in any shape to lead?’ By doing this, we get as close to the line as humanly possible. Raise the question.”
“You remind me of her,” Laird said. “Of the elder Rose, your predecessor.”
Rose didn’t reply.
I pointed. As a group, we retreated from Laird and the imp.
“You remind me of someone else, Blake,” Laird called out.
I didn’t take the bait.
We were halfway to the pre-furnished bedroom on the far end of the apartment when I heard the noise. It sounded like something between nails on a chalkboard, a bird’s screech and a death scream, if an something the size of an elephant were to make the sound.
I was slower than the others in stepping back to see.
The imp was on all fours, facing Laird, mouth open. Laird was halfway to his feet.
“Mercy,” Fell muttered. “That thing made that noise?”
Pauz screamed again. Most of us covered our ears.
“Pauz,” I said, “Stop.”
I didn’t even have a chance to draw in the breath to say another word before Pauz launched into a full on speech.
“You won’t have a moment’s rest,” Pauz spat the words at Laird, “You’ll slip, step too far. When you let me in, the first thing I’ll do is make you drink the contents of that chamberpot. I’ll bleed you and you’ll leak, pissing yourself in fear. I’ll watch you scramble to sop it up, to lap at it with your tongue and blot it with your rags, fighting to keep the circle from being compromised.”
“Thorburn,” Laird said.
Pauz continued, “Give me one hour inside that circle, and I can break you. I can make you wallow in your own piss and shit like a pig in mud, and you’ll be happy to do it, because it pleases me, and because it means I won’t make you feast on your own filth.”
“Ew,” Evan commented.
“Shut the thing up, Thorburn,” Laird said.
I stayed silent.
The eerie gravelly voice went on, “Give me the chance, and I might go after your family, and I’ll do the same to them five times over.”
“Thorburn,” Laird said. “You’ve won. You got me. You don’t need to drive the point home.”
Pauz continued, “If you don’t give me the chance, I’ll make a sport of it, I’ll reduce you to the sort of animal that would go after them and do depraved things. I want to watch you come back to me like a dog to its master.”
“I’m not listening, la la la,” Evan said, wings to the sides of his head.
Laird looked up at me. “I can’t take another hour of this, let alone days. Anyone would make a mistake. Let the imp through, or fall asleep, or jump at a sudden scream and accidentally trespass over the line-”
“Did Molly beg?” Rose cut in.
“Again,” Laird said, leaning his head back, staring up at the stippled ceiling, “That’s a question you should be asking Maggie. Ask her about blood and darkness.”
“You’re a bit of a bastard,” Maggie said.
“Deferring the blame,” Rose added.
“She was there, I wasn’t,” Laird said.
“But wait,” Pauz said, and he sounded earnest enough to catch our attention. “You don’t have a tail, do you?”
“If you want to beg for mercy, maybe you shouldn’t start by arguing trivialities about Molly’s death,” Rose said. “I didn’t really know her, but Blake did. He cared about her.”
Laird didn’t answer, and Pauz took the opportunity to continue. He almost crooned, if that was even possible with his hoarse, rough-edged voice. “Shall I drag your intestines out through your arsehole so you have something to wag for me, Laird Behaim? That’s not permanent damage. It’s within the bounds of the written rules.”
“Ew,” Evan said.
“Pauz,” I said, “Shut up.”
He shut his mouth and glared at me.
I chewed on my lip for a second.
“Thank you,” Laird said.
“You shut the fuck up too,” I said. “If I hear another word out of your mouth, I’m liable to let the imp have his say.”
Laird shut his mouth, his lips in a firm line.
“You don’t really get a good look at someone until all the chips are on the table,” I mused. “You don’t get a good look at yourself, either. Right now, though, listening to you, I feel like I’m getting a sense of you. How you’ve responded to this whole situation. To the circle and Pauz.”
Laird, mute, could only listen.
“You started by trying to be clever. To figure it out, to be gracious and win me over in little ways. You picked at Maggie and Rose to try and find weak points, and tried to figure out what you could about the circle for much the same reason. I didn’t miss that. That’s Laird Behaim on the surface level. Push a little deeper, and you get the reaction, the rationalizing. Morality, deferring the blame.”
I studied him. His eye flicked between me and Pauz, who was mute, tensed as if to leap, mouth pressed into a frown that extended from one corner of his jaw to the other.
“Push deeper, add a note of desperation, and we see what may well be the real Laird Behaim. You’re pushed to find a solution, you’re almost begging, and in that moment, you go for the first ideas that come to mind. Ideas that would work if the tables were turned and we were trying to convince you. You tell us we’ve won, as if the nebulous idea of victory is something I even want. You continue to rationalize.”
Laird spoke, knowing full well that I’d threatened to sic Pauz on him for speaking just one word. “I’m not the enemy you think I am.”
“You’re sure as fuck not my friend,” I said.
“You don’t have it in me to give this imp a genuine shot at me,” Laird said. “I’m thinking the rules of that contract allow him to scare me, but not actually get to me.”
I didn’t flinch as he met my eyes. “Do you want to try me? Test that suspicion?”
Laird paused, gauging me.
Then he shook his head.
“Didn’t think so,” I said. “Pauz, if he says another word without my express permission, I permit you to talk to him again. Until then, I want you to remain silent.”
Laird glared at me.
“Rose,” I said. “Do me a favor?”
“Maybe?” she replied.
“I’d feel a hell of a lot better with a second line of defense. The Tallowman, maybe?”
“The whole idea of using Pauz was to avoid having to dedicate too many resources to keeping him contained.”
“Please,” I said.
Rose hesitated, then relented. She nodded.
“Classic Bond villain mistake,” Ty said.
“I know,” I said.
“Leaving the enemy in the deathtrap, ignoring him? A henchman of questionable loyalties watching over things?”
“I know,” I repeated myself. “But there are things to do. Time is passing, and we can’t make dealing with Laird a full-time thing while all my enemies are scheming. We wrote up that contract carefully. The imp can’t actually do much. The Tallowman is a bigger threat to Laird than Pauz.”
“Don’t tell me you did the monologue, explaining things.”
“I did, kind of.”
“Damn it, Blake,” Ty said.
“It makes sense in context, the karma gain for fair play-”
“You’re telling me the universe encourages being the Bond villain?”
“It does, doesn’t it?” Ty asked.
“Kind of? Convoluted traps are generally better than just shooting the bastards, apparently.”
Ahead of us, Fell was talking with Maggie. The man paused. “Don’t underestimate the value of a bullet.”
I sighed. “I won’t and I don’t.”
Ty changed tacks, “Evan, back me up here. The rule for an evil genius is that you’ve got to have, like, an ordinary five year old kid to keep around and tell you your plan is idiotic.”
“I’m not five,” Evan said.
“He’s not ordinary,” I cut in.
“And Blake’s not evil,” Evan added.
“Doesn’t matter,” Ty declared. “Look, how many Bond movies have you seen, Ev?”
“None!? You’re in dire need of an education. We should make that a thing, tonight. Shore up our defenses, sit back with some videos on the laptop, and get the kid caught up with the greatest hits.”
I let the discussion between Ty and Evan continue in the background while we walked. The Hyena’s sword sat in a poster tube, a hat sitting on the upper end, covering up the hilt where it stuck out of the tube. It was awkward, slung over one shoulder, and banged against my right thigh like the Hyena was striving to make its irritation known. Evan, for his part, was perched on the pom-pom on the hat.
People looked, curious, but I was well beyond the point of caring.
Rose was back with Alexis and Tiff, giving them quick lessons. Ty had been restless, which wasn’t so unusual for him, and I’d been glad to have him along. He carried our supplies, general arts and craft stuff we’d sent Joel and Goosh out to buy while we waited for Laird to wake up, while I carried the Hyena. My carrying both would have been awkward.
The streets were crowded, people doing their shopping in the evenings, and I could smell rich food as people grabbed late lunches or early dinners. I was hungry.
It was easy to forget to attend to real life.
First things first, though, we had stuff that needed doing. The sphinx was due to attack, and this was the optimal time. I didn’t want to be near Laird when it happened, lest disaster strike, and if I was being entirely honest with myself, I wasn’t upset to know that Alexis was a fair distance away.
“Fell, how are your power reserves doing?” I asked.
“I’ve used more power in the past three days than I do most years,” he said. “Covering us up, covering our tracks and keeping the hideouts out of sight. It’s not easy.”
“Where do you stand?”
“If and when you ask me to do this stuff tomorrow morning, I might have to say no,” Fell told me.
Rose had only the two summonings. The Hyena was a dangerous tool to use, as the sword seemed to suggest.
We’d dealt a blow to Conquest. The trick was seizing this opportunity and running away with it. I was no long sure I wanted to bide our time, knowing how Conquest might let his people prey on Toronto, but I’d do it if I had to.
Take an advantage, hold on to it, and let Conquest be just a little bit less of a conqueror.
The next step was a simple one. I needed to keep from slipping in anyone’s standing.
I pushed up my sleeve and touched the Stonehenge bracelet.
The Behaims, as far as the connections suggested, weren’t close. The last Behaim owner of the bracelet, Duncan, was a good distance away.
That was a very good thing to know, considering that we were on our way to the police station.
“You’re sure about this?” Fell asked, as we approached the block.
“No,” I said. “But I don’t know how much they know. This could be the last place they think to look for us, or it could be the first.”
“Be wary,” he said.
I nodded. “Evan? You know who to look out for, I hope.”
“Yep!” Evan took flight. But he circled, fluttering for a moment in a haphazard attempt at staying in one place, difficult with the strong wind. “Ty?”
“Batman would totally kick her ass.”
That said, Evan was gone.
“Brat,” Ty said.
“Let’s hurry,” Fell said. “I can’t tell how, but they’re actively looking for us.”
“The Astrologer?” Maggie asked.
“More like a thousand tiny eyes than one big one,” Fell said, “If it were her, it would be one big one.”
I picked up the pace, quickly falling into step beside Maggie. I heard Ty grumble, the contents of his bag jostling as he hurried after, metal clinking against glass.
“I could do something with the sword,” Maggie said.
“I see it as Evan’s more than anyone’s,” I said.
“I’ve only got two gremlins, and it’s a rip-and-tear summoning with no control, and I’ve got some Faerie tricks I bargained for, but I’d really rather not use those.”
“We’ll manage,” I said. “This is an in-and-out job.”
“We’ll see what Rose can dig out of the books after,” I said.
“We should be doing that now, put this off.”
I shook my head.
I heaved the double doors open. Letting us into the police station. Before they could shut, I stuck one hand out, stopping it from closing. “Ty, stay out here? Keep an eye out? Run if there’s trouble?”
“What happens to you if there’s trouble?”
“We’ll see the connection changing as you run. I’m getting to know this place like the back of my hand, we can find another exit.”
He rolled his eyes. “If you’re sure.”
Fell moved my hand. “Less talking, more walking. They’re on their way.”
No Behaims lying in wait.
No destruction. No sign of an all-out practitioner skirmish.
It was eerie, disconcerting.
I approached the desk on the third floor.
“I want to talk to the police chief,” I said.
She arched an eyebrow.
“What?” I asked.
“Third visit in as many days,” she commented.
I frowned. “I was here earlier?”
“Yes. You and two officers. One wasn’t local?”
Hm? Me and the Behaims?
“What happened?” I asked. “Got a little bruised up earlier, my memory isn’t all there.”
She narrowed her eyes.
Suspecting me of being an addict?
“It’s true,” Maggie cut in.
“It’s part of why we’re here,” Fell said. “Helping him out.”
That seemed to be the qualifier the woman at the desk needed. The joys of having buddies with good karma. I gave people the wrong impression, led people to expect the worst. The goblin queen in training gave off a better vibe, and the hitman in service to the secret lord of the city was the pleasant, convincing one.
“You came in, the two other officers stepped forward to offer their help. You -rather loudly– called out to the police chief, calling him to you.”
The fucking memory erasure.
“That was the last I saw of you,” she added.
I frowned. “There are back stairs, aren’t there? Over that way?”
I’d tried to duck out, to evade Duncan and Laird, and something had gone wrong.
“Thanks,” I said.
I turned on my heel.
Down the stairs.
Fell stopped me before I could round the bend and head for the basement. “They’re coming.”
“I’ll deal,” I told him. “Two minutes, then you can drag me out.”
He opened his mouth, then shut it. “Go. I’ll be outside.”
Down to the basement, end of the hall, near the morgue.
A cop stood behind a chain-link mesh, leaning over a free paper with a sudoku puzzle. The crossword was already filled out.
“I’m here to reclaim something of mine,” I said.
“Name and ID.”
“Blake Thorburn,” I said. I fished for my wallet and driver’s license.
I noticed the response. A dozen connections responding to the name.
Were there ears out there too, searching for any hint of my name?
Something to watch out for.
“Yep, I remember the captain calling, but you were supposed to show up this morning.”
“Something came up,” Maggie said. “Can we go?”
“Can’t let you walk around swinging this thing around,” the police officer said.
“I’ll put it in my bag,” she said. “Promise.”
The power that a small oath had. Just a little more oomph.
The officer handed over the hatchet, and Maggie stuffed it into her bag. We made our exit as fast as we could without running. Maggie stuck her hand into the bag and handed me the hatchet as soon as we were out of sight.
We made our way outside. Ty had taken off the backpack filled with supplies, and it rested at his feet. Fell stood beside him, holding a scrap of paper.
When he saw me, Fell raised the paper to show me.
A flier, nondescript, something about an impromptu concert.
But an eye was drawn on it, stylized.
I could feel the eye looking.
“They probably made a few thousand of these, then tossed them out to be carried into the wind,” Fell said.
“They’re stepping up their game,” I said.
“Worse,” he said, “I think they’re sharing tricks. This is the Astrologer and the Sisters, I’d bet.”
I clenched my teeth.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when Evan landed on my shoulder, fluttering in my ear in an attempt to compensate for the wind.
“Trouble,” he said, sounding as if he were panting for breath. It was eerie, jarring with his tiny bird form.
“Trouble?” Maggie asked.
“People. They’re not really there but they’re there. On the other side. Women. They’re almost flying.”
“More tricks shared,” Fell said.
“They’re just around the corner.”
I glanced at Evan.
“Really,” Evan said. “Waiting. They’re doing this thing with their eyes closed, and fingers pressed together…”
“They’re looking,” Fell said. “And I’m not sure I can stop them, if they’re doing this. Too many eyes.”
“Then there’s only one option,” Maggie said. “We gotta hit them. We knew it was going to get ugly. Let’s be the ones to decide how.”
“How?” I asked.
“Blood and darkness,” she said.